PASADENA, Calif. – NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., has received the top group honor from the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum – the Trophy for Current Achievement. Representatives for Cassini will receive the trophy on March 21 at a black-tie dinner in Washington, D.C.
"Here we are some 15 years since Cassini launched and it's amazing how well the spacecraft has operated," said Charles Elachi, director of JPL. "Thanks to the superb work of both the development team and the operations team, Cassini has been able to show us the beauty and diversity of the Saturn system and, beyond that, to study what is really a miniature solar system in its own right."
The trophies for current and lifetime achievement are the National Air and Space Museum's most prestigious awards. They recognize outstanding achievements in the fields of aerospace science, technology and their history.
"The National Air and Space Museum Trophy is among the most prestigious awards given by the Smithsonian, it recognizes significant aerospace accomplishments," said National Air and Space Museum Director Jack Dailey. "We are pleased to present it to the Cassini-Huygens Flight Team in the Current Achievement category."
The Cassini-Huygens mission, a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency, launched in 1997. It performed a dramatic burn in June 2004 to slide into orbit around Saturn and, in December of that year, the spacecraft successfully released ESA's Huygens probe to pass down through the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon Titan.
Mission highlights include discovering a plume of water ice and organic particles spraying from the icy moon Enceladus and watching signs of seasonal change from northern winter into northern spring, such as the evolution of a monster storm in Saturn's northern hemisphere. Cassini and Huygens have also revealed just how Earth-like Titan is, as the only body in the solar system other than Earth that has stable liquid on the surface. The mission has discovered two new rings around Saturn and four new moons.
The Cassini spacecraft has also been navigating the Saturn system for nearly eight years with accuracies often better than half a mile (kilometer) while 700 to 800 million miles (1.2 to 1.3 billion kilometers) away from Earth. Cassini has also flown within 16 miles (25 kilometers) of the surface of Enceladus and many times through the upper atmosphere of Titan
The project completed its original prime mission in 2008 and has been extended twice. It is now in its solstice mission, which will enable scientists to observe seasonal change in the Saturn system through the northern summer solstice.
"We are very proud of what Cassini has accomplished," said Robert Mitchell, Cassini program manager based at JPL. "But our workhorse spacecraft still has much work left to do. We can't wait to see what Saturn, its rings and photogenic moons will reveal to us next."
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Cassini orbiter and its two onboard cameras were designed, developed and assembled at JPL.